This Day in Gaming History, May 5: “Wolfenstein 3D” is released

By Marshall Garvey

 

Ah, the first-person shooter (or FPS for short). What would our video game lives be without it? For all the evolutions in the gaming world over the years, it’s a genre that can never be phased out. If anything, it only seems to mushroom exponentially with each passing year, for better or worse. Call of Duty continues to churn out blockbuster title year after year, while other franchises like Battlefield attempt to one-up it just as consistently. And if you’re more retro-inclined, no gaming hangout of any kind is complete without GoldenEye or Perfect Dark.

But even the broadest genres can be traced to specific ancestors, and one of the key granddaddies of your COD’s and Battlefields (hell, it’s so old it’s even an ancestor to *GoldenEye*) is Wolfenstein 3D. Released 23 years ago today in 1992, it arrived in thousands of PC’s and blasted its way into gaming history like nothing before it. Placing gamers in the shoes of World War II spy William Blazkowicz (get it?), it gave everyone a chance to do live out what they’d wanted to do since seeing Raiders of the Lost Ark: Kill a fuck ton of Nazis.

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But the game’s appeal wasn’t limited to that. It pushed the player through level after level of Nazis and their ghastly mutant experiments, each of which had spectacular detail and intense, immersive gameplay more psychologically unnerving than anything previously released. In the words of Computer Gaming World’s reviewer, “I can’t remember a game…evoking such intense psychological responses from its players.” The levels were teeming with collectable items and secret passages, with the then-novel idea of “secret walls” revealing new areas the brainchild of developers John Romero and Tom Hall. And best of all: It all concluded with a battle against HItler himself.

“Fire! Fire! Right in Der Fuehrer’s face…”

“Fire! Fire! Right in Der Fuehrer’s face…”

Of course, Wolfenstein 3D wasn’t the first game in the franchise (it was preceded by the Castle Wolfenstein games), and it certainly wasn’t the last, with Wolfenstein: The New Order released just last year and a prequel expansion pack hitting shelves today. But it’s the one that truly changed gaming as we know it. Next time you pop in your favorite FPS, take a moment to salute the original butchery of Nazis and a giant robot Hitler that made it all possible.

And if you needed any further context on how long ago this game was and how much it precedes, when people were popping Wolfenstein 3D into their computers to play for the first time, this commercial was on television:

 

 

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About

Marshall Garvey is a graduate of UC Davis in history, and a gamer since third grade. He has many favorite games, among them “Batman: Arkham City,” “Zelda: Majora’s Mask,” “Resident Evil 4,” “All-Star Baseball 2001,” “Banjo Kazooie,” “Silent Hill 2,” “The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion,” and “Fallout: New Vegas,” among many others. His other interests include baseball, football, boxing, politics, music, movies, jogging, playing trombone, and writing, and he is a devoted fan of the Los Angeles Dodgers, Sacramento Kings, Minnesota Twins, and Oakland Athletics. He recently finished two tenures at the Richard Nixon Presidential Library in Yorba Linda, CA, the first being as an intern at the National Archives wing and the second as a staff writer for the Nixon Foundation. Right now, he’s working on two books for the Sacramento Historical Society, one about the history of baseball in the city and the other about the Governor’s Mansion. He is also the creator of his own trading cards franchise, the United States Presidents Baseball Club, which can be visited at: www.presidentsbaseball.com. You can also see his writing about baseball at: www.brushbackpitch.com

One thought on “This Day in Gaming History, May 5: “Wolfenstein 3D” is released

  1. I have a lot of nostalgia for Wolfenstein 3D, it was one of the first games I played on a DOS PC as a child. It was the first game that would teach me what this “shareware” thing is. What do you mean there is more!? This is one of the few series from my childhood that is still developing new games and has critical acclaim.
    Very interesting history between Silas Warner and ID Software with Wolfenstein, highly recommend reading into it. The Gaming Historian YouTube channel has a three part series going into great detail.

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